Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 31 August 2014

Now is time to get our place up and running

Potential: Arlene Foster and other MLAs cannot allow parading to detract from tourism — aided by ambassadors like Rory

August was meant to be 'Our time, Our place' for Northern Ireland, but it has ended in a depressing sectarian wrangle over parading.

The economic news has been bad, with youth unemployment soaring, job losses and a fall in tourist revenue for the first six months of the year - although we have yet to hear the results for July and August.

There is always a fear in Northern Ireland that politicians could use such issues to divert attention from economic and social issues, which they are unable to tackle.

The first Executive meeting after the recess will be on Monday and it needs to be all systems go to shake the current mood of drift.

Martin McGuinness and Peter Robinson will want to stamp their joint authority on the situation.

One pressing issue is corporation tax.

They should make every effort to get it devolved, but if they don't, they need a Plan B to attract new industry - and quickly.

Failure to either deliver on corporation tax, or provide an alternative, would go to their credibility.

Before they left for the recess, the two ministers spelt out a promising reform agenda of issues on which they said they had reached agreement, but didn't hang around to be questioned. They now need to put flesh on the ideas.

One is a £12.6bn investment strategy by 2015.

Some of this will not be new money, but we need to see jobs on the ground to reverse, or at least slow, the economic trend.

Another reform said to be waiting is the Education and Skills Authority (ESA), to manage and streamline education.

There is also the promise of a Welfare Reform Bill to blunt the impact of Westminster-imposed cuts on our poorest citizens and our economy generally.

We badly need a next step on tourism and here Arlene Foster's decision to participate in the Irish Government's 'Gathering' initiative for 2013 is to be welcomed.

North American tourists, particularly those that are better-off, still tend to come to Ireland as a whole.

We need to ensure that they include our patch prominently in their itinerary, if possible using Belfast as their entry-point now that we have eliminated duty on long-haul flights.

Last week, Dublin hosted an American football game between Notre Dame and the navy, which attracted 35,000 US visitors, mainly high-end.

The Irish Government used the event to pitch for business investment. A contact tells me that many of the visitors came north this week - he met some in the Culloden - and stayed long enough to witness the north Belfast parading row, with its echoes of the troubled past we are trying to shake.

Our leaders must be alive to every opportunity to pitch for Northern Ireland.

They also need to use their joint influence to smooth out problems which can not only cause misery on our streets, but damage our image abroad.

Exercising effective political authority involves reining in your own wilder elements and providing perspective - not getting sucked into their agenda.

The First and deputy First Minister have the authority to put things on a more constructive path and may start using it.

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